Traditionally the artist/gallery relationship has been clearly delineated. The artist made the artwork or craft. The gallery took responsibility for all marketing and sales. This model is simple and the two domains are served by different skills and expertise. In effect, however, it is a one-size-fits-all scenario.
The reality is that business models can be much more complex and apply a range of skills and expertise to varying degrees. Some artists are in fact quite adept at marketing and sales. Some galleries are better than others in taking advantage of new technologies and resources and addressing shifting consumer sentiments.
In many examples, manufacturers focused on making products; and let their retailers focus on marketing and sales. Kellogg's sells cereal through grocery stores. Tylenol sells pills through drug stores and convenience stores. Neither sells directly from the factory.
At the opposite extreme, Dell and Apple decided to cut out the middle man because they thought they could do it better. And both are extremely successful. The irony is that Apple created its own retail outlets through Apple stores and Dell has no retail outlets at all.
And there are many variations.
Here is a hybrid model. Cell phones are sold through service provider outlets like Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. In addition to their stores, they also sell through other retail channels like Best Buy and Radio Shack, and many retail websites.
Some clothing manufactures are selling directly from their websites, some aren't. Some, like Lands End, do both.
Kohler (a well-known plumbing fixtures manufacturer) doesn't sell from their factory, but they sell one line of lower-priced products through Home Depot and a premium line to their more exclusive retail outlets. Most people don't realize the distinction between the two product lines until they study the products carefully or talk to a plumber.
Many different business models are quite effective in the marketplace. Who is right? The real point is that a variety of business models can be effective, i.e. the business model is not sacrosanct. There is a spectrum of possible models and they all can succeed or fail for reasons beyond the business model.
One model does not fit all situations. The 50% commission (or 50/50 artist/gallery) model has been around a long time. I think it is time to reconsider and create some new business models. I am not saying that the 50/50 model is bad, but it is not ideal for all scenarios.
How and when would some variation of other business models work? In what situations would another business model be more effective?
What do you think? Are you marketing your work online independently? How do you or would you coordinate your marketing with a gallery? Share your ideas about the changing artist/gallery relationship. I'm going to continue this discussion in a series of upcoming posts.
This post was updated on December 28, 2021.